Humbling Horses: A Lesson in How We Define Success

By Mackenzie Shuman

Last year I came off the show season on cloud nine. I had just gotten my horse, Quinn, in February, and we had competed in a whirlwind of horse shows, never coming back without a Champion or Reserve Champion ribbon. Automatically, I knew I had to move up to the big, prestigious Junior Hunters, but I wasn’t worried. In fact, I was confident that we would have just as much or even more success than we had had last year.


Quintessence & Mackenzie Shuman. Photo by Horses In Motion Photography

Colorado had canceled many of its spring shows, so we went into The Summer in the Rockies horse shows at the Colorado Horse Park with little Junior Hunter experience under our belts. We both weren’t sure entirely what to expect but knew it was definitely a step up. Still, I had my whole ego holding down any doubts I had in mind.

Overall, things went well the first week. We started off with good ribbons in the 3’3” Performance Hunters and my first day in the Juniors went well even under the downpour that occurred. The third week of the show circuit is when reality hit me. I was running at fences and Quinn was having none of it. Yet every time I fell or we stopped, we kept going, figuring out what the problem was and trying to fix it. That Friday was the big USHJA National Hunter Derby that I had been looking forward to for a long time. We put in two good rounds, ending up ninth and the highest placing junior out of forty-seven amazing professionals, amateurs, and other juniors.


Quinn and I rode to the end of that week with decent ribbons and decent rounds, but I was still a little upset that I had not achieved champion, as last year it seemed like it was easy. Continuing through the Summer in the Rockies, we earned more decent ribbons but nothing spectacular. I started getting obsessed with the idea that I had to get champion or reserve champion. We worked harder and harder, seemingly in the best shape we had ever been in. At the last A show of the season, Colorado Fall Preview, we had the best show all year. Our rounds were finally reaching that finessed and polished feel, and Quinn was jumping in his best form, but I walked away from the arena unhappy, as my champion ribbon remained seemingly unreachable.


The more I moped around, the more I realized that this entire time I had been wrong. I had been focusing on the bad rather than the good. Through the year I didn’t even pay attention to how talented my slightly green horse had become, or how much I had improved as a rider. My mind was caught on the idea of qualifying for Junior Hunter Finals and getting that elusive championship. I compared videos from last year to this year and saw just how far we have come, even if the ribbons didn’t show it.


My victory had come. Not in the form of a big, shiny trophy or billowing ribbon, but in the form of improvement, new found knowledge, and incredible happiness. This summer I learned that success isn’t always concrete, but it’s the mental ability to find joy in all things. I found joy in becoming truly happy with what I have accomplished as a rider and person, and knowing that while ribbons may mean you have bested everyone in the class, sometimes the way to actually win is to walk away from that arena happy with your success, no matter the size or form.


About Mackenzie: A junior at Lewis Palmer High School, Mackenzie rides her horse, Quinn, in the Junior Hunters all year. She aspires to go to school for journalism and continue to follow her passion of both photojournalism and horses.

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